Cooking Terms & Techniques

Cooking is considered an art form by many, combining flavors and textures into a sensory experience, designed to stimulate the sense, and satisfy the palette. You don’t need to attend a fancy cooking school to learn some basic maneuvers and terms, or to improve your skills.

We’ve outlined a few phrases you may have heard or read, which should prove useful as you grow your culinary knowledge.

Cooking Terms & Techniques

  • Aromatics

    Much of our sense of taste is tied to our sense of smell. That’s why food doesn’t taste quite as delicious when we have a cold, or an inhibited sense of smell. Many dishes are built around base aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices. This will vary by cuisine, but onion and garlic are popular aromatics used in many cultures.

    These serve as a building block to greater flavor, usually cooked in oil or butter before other ingredients are added. Additional aromatics might include carrot and celery, or herbs such as thyme, rosemary, basil, or oregano.

  • Blanch

    Blanching is the process of cooking food for a brief time in hot water, then rapidly plunging it into cooler water, in order to halt the cooking. Frequently done with vegetables and occasionally fruit, blanching can help break down or eliminate some of the “rawness” in a food, while maintaining a nice bite.

    Green beans are one such example of food that is frequently blanched; once removed from the cold water, they are bright green and fresh with a nice bite, without being fully raw.

  • Bouillon

    Similar to stock, but meat is simmered in water, rather than bones and seasoning is traditionally more robust. Makes a clear broth that can be used as the base for soups – or drunk on its own.

  • Braise


    To braise is to cook a food slightly in a pan, allowing for flavor to develop, and then removing it from heat to cook the rest of the way in a slower method, generally with lower heat.

    This will produce flavorful yet tender items, and is frequently a method used for meat, such as a pot roast. Pans are often deglazed after the item has been removed, and the resulting liquid is incorporated into the secondary cooking method.

  • Brining

    Brines are a liquid designed to tenderize meat, (such as a turkey, ahead of a big meal) in a salty liquid, encouraging flavors to soak deeply inside, and allow for a more moist item after cooking.

    Brines are also used to pickle items, providing a salty liquid which can tenderize and often even preserve a food.

  • Brining vs Marinating

    Brining vs Marinating can be tricky, as the ultimate goal is the same- tender, flavorful food. Brines serve the distinct purpose of infusing water and salt into an item, before it is cooked.

    Marinating is another type of tenderization, though typically done with an acidic substance as opposed to soaking the item in a saltwater brine for maximum flavor and moisture.

  • Broil

    Broiling is a cooking method, similar to grilling, which uses high and dry heat to cook an item, like meat and vegetables. Most ovens have a broil setting, and food is then placed inside, allowing for high heat and quick cooking.

     

  • Caramelization

    Heating substances with carbohydrates slowly up to 300°F on the stove top, which causes substances such as sugar or onions to turn brown, syrupy and slightly thickened.

  • Deglazing

    Deglazing is the process of utilizing flavors left over in a pan, in order to maximize taste. This is done by removing an item from the pan once it has completed cooking, and adding a liquid (typically a wine, but stock is also used) in order to liquify the caramelized and brown bits left behind.

    Deglazing is frequently done after cooking meat, and this liquid can become a sauce on its own or be incorporated into stews or soups.

  • Emulsify

    Emulsification is the process of combining two or more substances into one homogenous liquid or sauce. This might mean whipping together egg yolk and oil to make a mayonnaise (adding garlic and other flavorings to make an aioli), or even something as simple as shaking up a bottle of oil, vinegar and herbs to make a salad dressing.

    This process generally takes some degree of effort, as the two substances might not blend together easily without some work.

  • Marinate

    Marinating an item is the process of allowing the marinade liquid to soak into and flavor the food, as a part of the overall taste profile. Many steaks and vegetables are marinated, in order to increase tenderness and flavor.

    Many popular marinades are considered sauces, in comparison to a brine, which is a salty liquid.

  • Poach

    Poaching is the process of cooking an item in simmering water or another such liquid; this is frequently a method used to cook eggs, allowing for a gently but thoroughly cooked white, and a yolk which has been heated, but not overcooked.

  • Reduce

    Reducing is the process of simmering a liquid down to its most fundamental components, eliminating excess water. This can be useful in any number of circumstances, allowing the end result to be more complex and layered, flavor-wise.

    This is also a method used to provide thickness to sauces or other liquids, changing the overall texture.

  • Saute

    Saute is the process of cooking an item in a pan with a small amount of fat or oil, over medium to high heat.

  • Searing

    Searing is the process of cooking an item (generally meat) until a flavorful, toasted surface has formed, allowing for great flavor. Seared items are not always cooked all the way through and are often seared in preparation for a slower cooking method which may not develop flavor in the same way.

  • Sous Vide

    Sous Vide is a cooking method, where items are slowly headed up in a water bath. These foods are contained in a heat proof bag or container, and remain tender, due to the gradual increase in temperature.

French Cooking Terms

  • Allemande

    If you see a sauce designated as “Allemande”, it will most likely contain veal stock, cream and egg yolk (as well as lemon juice).

  • Au gratin

    Most people think this means “with cheese” – but in the culinary world, it is used to signify a topping of breadcrumbs, butter and grated, fresh cheeses.

  • Au jus

    Meat roasted and served in its own juices, with no other moisture added.

  • Au tour

    “All around”. Sauce is poured round a dish; not all over it.

  • Bain-marie

    A container of hot water into which you insert and cook food that you don’t want to curdle. (The principle is similar to double boiling.)

  • Béarnaise

    A light hollandaise sauce variation, flavored with tarragon, and meant to be served with roasted meats.

  • Béchamel

    Basic white sauce made from a roux (butter and flour bubbled over a low heat till slightly browned) and milk. Many cream sauces start with a béchamel.

  • Bisque

    A hearty soup, usually fish – but when the term is applied to desserts, it refers to a macaroon/ice cream mixture.

  • Blanch

    Immersing fresh vegetables very briefly in water that has been brought to a rolling boil.  (Stop the cooking process by straining them and cooling them briefly under ice-cold, running water.) Keeps crispness for salads without the vegetable being bitter or indigestible; and retains/enhances color.

  • Bordelaise

    A brown gravy containing shallots and red wine.

  • Bouillabaisse

    French fish stew or soup.

  • Bouquet Garni

    Fresh parsley, thyme, celery and a bay leaf wrapped in layers of leek and tied with string into a firm parcel. One end of the string is often kept long, as your bouquet garni is inserted into pots of stock (water plus meat bones), and removed at the end of cooking.

  • Canapé

    Finger-food appetizer served with drinks, before people sit down at the table and while they mingle

  • Chiffonade

    A way of feathering leafy vegetables for decoration.

  • Chinois

    Inverted-cone-shaped, fine metal strainer for stocks, sauces and soups.  Usually hangs on chains. (With sauces, it is meant for ensuring lumps are strained out and often a pestle is used to work these through the mesh.)

  • Choux

    A rich pastry made of eggs, butter, flour and water or milk. Most often used for cream puffs, profiteroles and other light, airy desserts.

  • Concassé

    Coarsely-chopped vegetables in chunks.

  • Consommé

    Clear meat broth.

  • Coulis

    Finely puréed fruit, resulting in a thin, smooth syrup or sauce.

  • Crepe

    Very thin pancake, usually rolled around a sweet or savory filling.

  • Croustade

    A loaf or bun that has been hollowed out and lightly toasted, so that the center can be filled with a savory, hot filling such as a stew.

  • Crudités

    Another term for fresh or blanched vegetables served in sticks or chunks as a go-with or appetizer.

  • Fondant

    A mixture of sugar and water simmered and reduced to the “soft-ball” stag. Poured fondant is used to fill candies. Hard fondant usually has gelatin or marshmallow added, and can be rolled out to use as the middle layer of sandwich cookies; or used to cover and decorate a cake.

  • Frappé

    Semi-frozen.  Still liquid but thick with ice particles.

  • Fricassee

    Stew made with meat that has not first been browned.

  • Glacé

    Glazed or covered with icing. Refers to the shiny surface glazed dishes or food items have.

  • Hors d’oeuvres

    Fancy appetizer served at the start of your meal.

  • Julienne

    Raw vegetables such as carrots and celery that have been chopped into fine “matchsticks”.

  • Meuniere

    Flouring fish or meat and sautéing it in butter.

  • Mirepoix

    Chopped onion, carrot and celery mixture.

  • Roux

    Butter and flour cooked over low heat together to form a thickening agent.

  • Velouté

    Stock mixed into a roux. Can stand alone, or act as the base for other sauces and gravies.

  • Vinaigrette

    Dressing made from oil and vinegar, with added seasonings.

  • Vol au vent

    Cylinder of puff pastry no more than 2” high, filled with savory fillings. Before serving, remove the “lid” from the center of your vol au vent, fill and replace “lid” if desired.

Italian Cooking Terms

  • Al dente

    Refers to pasta. Firm “to the tooth”; not soft. But there should be no hard center.

  • Al forno

    Literally “to the oven”. Cooked in an oven.

  • Florentine

    Usually signifies a dish cooked with spinach.

  • Gremolata

    Fresh parsley, garlic and lemon zest added at the end of cooking to stews.

  • Zabaglione

    Also known as “Sabayon” (French). Custard made with egg yolks and sweet wine.

German Cooking Terms

  • Zwieback

    Twice-toasted bread.